October 12, 2011

Where Did All the Sales Mentors Go?

I’ve been kicking around a blog post in my head about sales mentoring for a few weeks. Just yesterday my friend, sales guru, and fantasy football expert, Jim Keenan, posted a great short piece challenging sales managers about their focus on activity vs. focusing on people.  And today I was privileged to have an energizing extended phone call with friend and fellow transplanted New Yorker, Gary Hart. We spent a good part of our conversation discussing the state of the sales profession and theorizing about the lack of mentoring today.

I don’t know about you, but I have been blessed with some incredible mentors in my life. Without even stopping to prepare a list I could rattle off names like Dad, Judd Kirsch, Bob Shannon, Rob Krisch, Danny Abraham, Paul Stolwyk, Rob Morton, Donnie Williams, Steve Miller and Anthony Iannarino. Just reading those names gets me choked up and makes me want to stop and send a thank-you to each one for investing in me.

A couple of those men above were/are my real-life sales mentors. They taught me about sales. Sales philosophy. Technique. Positioning. Story-telling. Structuring sales calls. Listening. Consulting. Presenting. Persistence. Deal-strategy. Goal setting. And on and on.

Working with a variety of sales teams lately, I have come to the conclusion that many in today’s generation of salespeople have not been mentored. Oh, they’ve been managed, just not mentored.

Where did all the sales mentors go? 

Who is having coffee with the young bucks shaping their view of the sales profession and how to approach their jobs? Where is the veteran who grabs the rookie and says, “Spend the morning with me. I am going on two calls that you’ll really benefit from observing.” And after the meetings takes the kid to the local (non-chain) hole-in-the-wall restaurant that serves the best lunch in town so they can talk through what just went down during those calls.

Where is the sales manager who gets in the sales rep’s car and invests a day coaching his impressionable young piece of talent? You know, or at least you should know what that looks and feels like. The manager asks his salesperson to review the day’s agenda and as they pull into each customer or prospect’s lot, asks some key questions before they get out of the car: “With whom are we meeting? Why are we here?  Why do they think we are here? What happened in your last meeting (if there was one)? What do we know about their situation? What’s your plan for the call and how will you set up the meeting? What role would you like me to play?” And after the meeting many more questions:  “How do you think that went?”  What went well? What would you do differently? Did you catch what I was doing when I jumped in? Why do you think I did that?”

Bottom-line: I see a lot of salespeople today who are more proficient at entering tasks and updating salesforce.com than they are at critical and basic sales skills like using the phone, conducting a sales call, asking good probing questions and presenting. I think it is fair to say that a major reason for this travesty is that we have many sales managers more concerned their people update the CRM than they are about whether they can effectively do their job! I am sorry and I hate to write that, but very often that seems to be the case.

I am seeing lots of managing and almost no mentoring. Sales leader, salesperson, what are you going to do about it?